Entertaining the Goats or Feeding the Sheep? (John 21:15-17)
Good morning everybody, I guess you can see me but I can’t see you too well, I don’t know if that’s my advantage or your advantage or what. But if we can take our Bibles and open them to John 22:15; the title of our message this morning is Entertaining the Goats or Feeding the Sheep? And as you’re turning there one of the things that was mentioned a little earlier was the baptism; baptism is something that takes place in public before witnesses. So what does that mean? We need what? Witnesses! So if you at all feel prompted by the Lord to attend that baptism at 3:00 o’clock today we would encourage you to do that. We have some maps at the back table if you have an interest in doing that.
I’d also encourage you to take a look at our CD and DVD table, which is as you go out it’s immediately on the left. Becky Denham has done a great job keeping that stocked and so there’s a lot of new stuff out there, CD’s, DVD’s on a lot of different teaching topics so if you have an interest in a particular subject feel free to take whatever you would like.
The next couple of Sunday’s I will not be here; my family and I are taking a little time of rest and relaxation so next week Will Miller is going to be teaching, he’s taught here before and done a great job and so he’ll be back next week. I’m not sure what his topic is going to be but it will be very good. I’m assuming he’s going to continue on in 1 John. And I’m very excited also about the 9th, I’m sorry I won’t be here to see this but you’re going to have a chance to hear from Gabe Morris, who is our children’s director, and he’s going to be dealing, on the 9th, with a really important topic that doesn’t get a lot of teaching in the body of Christ today, the Bema Seat Judgment of Christ, which is the judgment of rewards. So I would encourage to think about attending that and keep Gabe and Will in your prayers as they prepare and allow the Lord to speak through them.
Here we are in John 21; we’re in that very final paragraph in the book. John, of course, writing a book about Jesus, Jesus as the Son of God as demonstrated through His miracles so that men might believe in Jesus and have the gift of life. We’re at the very end of this particular book, dealing with the Passion narratives, chapters 18-21, which revolve around Christ’s death, the death of Christ and then what follows is His resurrection. And chapters 20-21 really deal with the resurrection of Jesus. We have the empty tomb in chapter 20, and then what follows are about five post-resurrection appearances of Jesus. And we, believe it or not, are at the very end, not only of this section but at the end of John’s Gospel. And what we don’t finish today we’ll complete when I come back on the 16th of August.
But this really deals with a time of conversation and ministry that Jesus had with His two top hand-picked disciples, John and Peter. It’s a conversation they had, and these events take place along the shores of the Sea of Galilee, in a place called Tabgha, in between Gennesaret and Capernaum. I had a chance to visit that area last summer and that’s what it looks like and that’s the actual shoreline that people believe Jesus was on with Peter and John as he talked with these two disciples, as recorded at the end of John’s Gospel.
So we can outline this paragraph as follows; the confessions, verses 15-17; the cross, verses 18-19, the concern, verses 20-21, the chiding, verse 22, the confusion, verse 23, and then the confirmation, verses 24-25. Notice first of all the confessions, and even before we read these verses and get into them I want to issue a little caveat, if I could, and if I don’t do this you’re going to say why did he leave out that, I thought this was part of it.
So let me explain to you what I’m leaving out and why I’m not speaking directly to it. Most teaching that you get on this subject, the Bible teacher makes a big deal about the verb agapáō in Greek, which means to love, and the Greek word phileō which means to love. And in Greek, it’s one of the fullest dialects the human race has ever had, whereas there is just one word for “love” in English, there are at least three words for love, perhaps more, in Greek. There’s agapē love which is the highest form of love, selfless love; then there’s something called phileō and from that word phileō we get the city of Philadelphia, which is the city of brotherly love, even though they have one of the highest murder rates in the whole country, but we won’t get into that subject. But phileō means essentially brotherly love. And then you have another word for love, called érōs which is speaking more of romantic love.
And one of the things people say is Jesus uses the word agape, or agapáō, Peter uses phileō and Jesus at the end of this uses the word phileō, and they make a big deal about how there were differing loves that Jesus had for Peter versus Peter’s love for Jesus, on account of these different words. So 99% of Bible teaching you get on these verses brings up that subject. And let me tell you why I am not going to be bringing up that subject: I’m not bringing up that subject because agapáō, to love, and phileō, to love, are synonyms in John’s Gospel. What is a synonym? It’s a different word, same meaning.
For example, the Father’s love for the Son is called agapē love, John 3:35 and John 10:17. But it’s also called phileō love, John 5:20. [John 5:35, “The Father loves the Son and has given all things into His hand.” John 5:20, “For the Father loves the Son, and shows Him all things that he Himself is doing; and the Father will show Him greater works than these, so that you will marvel.”]
Jesus’ love for Lazarus is called agapē love, John 11:5, but it’s called phileō love, John 11:3, John 11:36. [John 11:5, “Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus.” John 11:36, “So the Jews were saying, ‘See how He loved him!”]
Jesus love for John is called agapē love, John 13:23, but it’s also called phileō love, John 20:2.
[John 13:23, “There was reclining on Jesus’ bosom one of His disciples, whom Jesus loved.”
John 20:2, “So she ran and came to Simon Peter and to the other disciple whom Jesus loved, and said to them, ‘They have taken away the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid Him.’”]
So as you consistently study John’s Gospel what you’ll discover is the two are used in John’s Gospel as synonyms for each other. So in any other passage we’ve read in John’s Gospel we have not made a big deal about those different words, and because that’s John’s pattern in writing I don’t believe we should make too big of an issue of those words here in the passage. We can study those words by themselves and come up with different meanings to them, but I don’t think that’s what John is doing because for him to do that would be to talk about something which has not been a dominant subject in the rest of this book. So I just wanted to make you aware of that, why I have made a decision not to bring up that particular subject.
Having said that though, let’s take a look at these confessions; they are recorded in verses 15-17, there are three rounds here. Round 1, verse 15; round 2, verse 16, round 3, verse 17. And in each round Jesus will make a statement, Peter will respond and Jesus will wrap up that round with a command of some sort. And this happens three times; it happens three times with Peter and consequently what is happening here is Jesus, I believe, as I’ll explain, is restoring Peter to a place of leadership within God’s church that is yet to be born on the day of Pentecost.
Notice, if you will, Round 1, which is in verse 15, and notice first of all the statement that Jesus makes. He says in verse 15, “So when they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, ‘Simon, son of John, do you love Me more than these?” It’s interesting in verse 15 Jesus makes a reference to the fact that Peter is the “son of John” and some of your versions may say Jonas or Johnas, but he makes a reference there to His biological heritage. He does that not once, verse 15, not twice, also in verse 16, but He actually does it in verse 17; three times, in these verses that we’re looking at here. [Verse 15, “So when they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, ‘Simon, son of John, do you love Me more than these?” Verse 16, “He said to him again a second time, ‘Simon, son of John, do you love Me?’ Verse 17, “He said to him the third time, ‘Simon, son of John, do you love Me?”]
And there have been other times in John’s Gospel where Jesus has called Peter, or Simon, “the son of John.” He did that when He originally called Peter into the ministry, or let me rephrase that, when He called him into saving faith back in John 1:42. You might remember Jesus said this to Peter: “‘You are Simon the son of John….” And then when Peter came up with a correct definition of who Christ is, because you remember Jesus said at Caesarea of Philippi, “Who do men say that I am?” And Peter came up with the correct answer, Matthew 16:17, “And Jesus said to him,” in that verse, “‘Blessed are you Simon Barjona, because flesh and blood did not reveal this to you, but My Father who is in heaven.”
So my point is whenever Jesus calls Peter by his earthly father, his own physical heritage, He is saying something extremely important to Peter. And what he does here by repeating his earthly heritage three times is this statement, or series of statements that Jesus makes to Peter must be a big deal. I mean, this must be very significant what Jesus here is saying to Peter and how the two of them are interacting.
And so verse 15 says, “So when they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, ‘Simon, son of John, do you love Me more than these?’” Now what are the “these?” It doesn’t tell you and people speculate quite a bit: well, Jesus is asking Peter do you love Me more than fishing? And that’s, of course, because Peter went fishing after Jesus rose from the dead and people have this idea that Peter loved fishing more than Jesus and so Jesus is asking him, “Do you love Me more than these?,” in other words, do you love Me more than fishing, do you love Me more than these 153 fish you caught, do you love Me more than the nets, do you love Me more than your fishing boat. In other words, are you trying to place Me, or can you, or will You place Me over your career or occupation? I don’t think that’s what Jesus is getting at here.
I don’t think that because Peter had elevated himself, earlier in this book, over the rest of the disciples. He has basically told the Lord that my commitment to You is higher than, greater than the rest of the apostles, or disciples. This is a statement Peter made in the Upper Room Discourse. John 13:37 says this: “Peter said to Him, ‘Lord, why can I not follow You right now? I will lay down my life for You.’” In other words, unlike all these other guys that You’ve picked to be with Yourself I’m different, I’m going to lay my life down. Now this is not recorded here in John but in Matthew 26:33 we read these words, “But Peter said to Him, ‘Even though all may fall away because of You, I will never fall away.’” So in so doing he was elevating himself over the rest of the disciples, and he, in essence, was speaking out of human power. He was speaking out of human willpower. He was speaking out of human energy and he says Lord, I’m more committed than everybody else in this room; I’m more committed than the other disciples, and everybody else will let you down but not me.
And, of course, as we’ve studied the story we know that Peter fell flat on his face, didn’t he? He failed not once, not twice, but three times and consequently that’s why we have three rounds here. Jesus is restoring Peter, not once, not twice, but three times. This is a full restoration of the apostle, Peter. “Do you love Me,” Jesus asks, More than these?” More than the rest of the disciples, because you promoted yourself over the rest of them and I’m just trying to figure out if it’s really true, Jesus says to Peter.
And I like Peter’s response there in verse 15, it shows growth in Peter. It says there in verse 15, “He said to him, ‘Yes, Lord, You know that I love you.’” Now notice that Peter doesn’t say Lord, I love you based on my track record. Why couldn’t he say that? Because there was no track record, there was just abject failure. But Peter does not appeal to his resume, what he appeals to is Jesus’ omniscience; he says Lord, in essence You know everything, You know my heart, You know that I love You, and yes, I did fail but my heart of hearts is a heart of sincerity. And quite frankly, I take Peter at his word. I think he did love the Lord, I think his motives were sincere, although somewhat misguided, and he was relying upon the wrong source of power to fulfill his destiny in God; he was relying upon human ingenuity, human energy.
And you see, as it will be hinted at in verses 18-19 Peter has a huge destiny in God to fulfill. One of the things that’s going to happen in his life, this would happen about thirty years after this conversation is Peter himself would be crucified to glorify Jesus. And how can a man relying upon his own power fulfill that calling. Jesus has to get Peter to a point of dependence and brokenness and once he arrives at that point he will discover that he can be become usable in God as he learns not to rely upon himself but upon God only.
But his heart of hearts is he really was sincere and you see, there are many people like this in the body of Christ today, they are very sincere and they really want to live for God. They simply, though, are trying to tap into the wrong source of energy or power to fulfill their calling; they are relying upon themselves. And God has never called us to rely upon ourselves in our walk with Him. He has given us resources and riches and it is only as we learn to appropriate those, moment by moment by faith and yield to them and walk in obedience to Him that we learn that we have the ability, not in ourselves but in God, to fulfill our callings in Him. But Peter’s motives were pure; he said You know, Lord, You know the truth about me.
And this leads now to a command of Jesus to Peter and notice what he says there at the end of verse 15, “He said to Him, ‘Yes, Lord; You know that I love You.” Now here is Christ’s response: “He” that would be Jesus, “said to him, ‘Tend My lambs.’” The verb “tend,” translated “tend” here in the New American Standard Bible is a command. It’s not s suggestion, it’s a command that the Lord gave to Peter; we’ll talk about what that command means in just a moment.
Also, notice there in verse 15 that Jesus refers to those that would come to faith in Him as His “lambs.” They are also called “sheep” down in verse 16 and verse 17, and we have seen in our lives so many pictures of Jesus with the sheep and we say isn’t that a cute picture, and isn’t it all cozy and cute and cuddly that He analogizes us to sheep and, you know, it gives you kind of the warm fuzzies sort of thing. But the fact of the matter is, when Jesus refers to His people as sheep, that Beloved, is not a compliment. Sheep, or lambs, are some of the dumbest animals that have ever walked the face of the earth. In fact, sheep or lambs will follow each other right off the cliff; they have virtually no sense of discernment, they are actually some of the most defenseless creatures that God has made. A wolf can have their way with a sheep or lamb anytime the wolf wants to unless there is a shepherd there protecting the sheep from the wolf (or the lamb); defenseless and dumb is the analogy with sheep.
And consequently when you understand the defenselessness of these animals you begin to under¬stand why God has raised up shepherds, why God has raised up pastors, because the pastor’s job, as I will show you in just a moment, is to protect the sheep from the wolf. And Peter is moving into this role, not just as an evangelist, he had been an evangelist up to this point in time, now another mantle or calling was placed upon him. He was to be a pastor or a shepherd of God’s flock; more on that in just a minute.
But isn’t it interesting there in verse 15 Jesus refers to His lambs, not as Peter’s lambs, He says, “My lambs.” Notice the possessive nature of that; these lambs don’t belong to Peter, they belong to the Lord. And spiritual leaders need to understand that; the people that you are ministering to do not belong to you; they do not belong to the church. They ultimately belong to the Lord Jesus Christ. And it’s so easy in spiritual leadership to say this is my ministry, and these are my people, and this is my church. But you see, the fact of the matter is Jesus consistently says, and He does this not just once but three times in these verses. He calls the sheep or the lambs, “My sheep, My lambs.”
And so we are not owners of the Lord’s sheepfold, we are simply managers of it; a manager is not an owner, a manager is a steward. We are managers of it, managing it on His behalf. Peter, apparently learned this lesson because 30 years later he wrote a book called 1 Peter and in 1 Peter 5:4 this is what it says: “And when,” he’s speaking to elders or shepherds here, “And when the Chief Shepherd appears” you elders, “you will receive the unfading crown of glory.” Notice that you are shepherds but the only thing you are is an under shepherd; there is coming a Chief Shepherd to whom you too will give an account. And that’s all spiritual leaders are; they are under shepherds, shepherding under the great influence of the Chief Shepherd, Jesus Christ, who will return and call us into account regarding how we tended or fed or took care of the sheep that He trusted to our custody.
It is interesting there, in verse 15, going back to it just for a moment, the command of Jesus to Peter, “He said to him, tend my lambs.” Now the verb “Tend” here is in the Greek boskō and I think it is better translated as not just “Tend” but “Feed my sheep.” That’s how the King James Version translates this. If you read from the King James Version you’ll notice it doesn’t say “Tend My lambs,” it says “Feed my lambs.” And this verb is the exact same verb that will be used again in verse 17 where Jesus will solidify this command to Peter a third time, actually a second time. In the middle verse, verse 16, he uses a slightly different verb meaning to shepherd. But in verse 15 and verse 17, His command… and again, this is not a suggestion, it’s not why don’t you try this and see if it works, it’s a command from to feed, not your sheep, they don’t belong to you, “Feed My sheep.”
Now when He says “Feed My sheep,” He’s drawing from a basic analogy that’s used all the way through Scripture and that analogy is this: Just as our physical bodies or the outer man needs physical food to be physically nourished, in the same way the spiritual man or woman inside of us desperately needs spiritual food in order to experience spiritual development, spiritual growth in order to be spiritually sustained.
This analogy between the Word of God and eating is not something that starts here, you can find in the oldest book of the Bible, the book of Job. Job, of course, was written during the time period of the patriarchs, about 2,000 years or so before the time of Christ, even 600 years before Moses penned the Pentateuch, or Torah, which involves the book of Genesis; 600 years in advance, before that book was even written, Job wrote this in Job 23:12, “I have not departed from the command of His lips; I have treasured the words of His mouth more than my necessary food.” Job, at the very beginning said just as my body needs physical food to be physically sustained my spiritual man within me needs spiritual food to be spiritually sustained, and therefore Job looked at the Word of God as tantamount, or equivalent to, daily food.
This is not just something Job spoke of, the book of Deuteronomy speaks of this. In Deuteronomy 8:3 we read this: “He humbled you and let you be hungry, and fed you with manna which you did not know, nor did your fathers know, that He might make you understand that man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by…” anybody know the next word? “every” “everything that proceeds out of the mouth of the LORD.” Man does not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds out of the mouth of God. Jesus apparently strongly believed in the veracity of that Scripture because He quoted it to ward off Satan in Matthew 4:4. [Matthew 4:4, “But he answered and said, ‘It is written, ‘MAN SHALL NOT LIVE ON BREAD ALONE, BUT ON EVERY WORD THAT PROCEEDS OUT OF THE MOUTH OF GOD.”]
In the three temptations Jesus came under the most severe temptations a human being has ever undergone. And it is very interesting to me that He felt that the book of Deuteronomy, most Christians haven’t even read the book of Deuteronomy, he felt that what was in the book of Deuteronomy was sufficient to ward off Satan’s temptation, because in Matthew 4:4 He quoted Deuteronomy 8:3. Matthew 4:4 says, “But He answered and said, “It is written, ‘MAN SHALL NOT LIVE ON BREAD ALONE, BUT ON,” what’s the next word, “EVERY WORD THAT PROCEEDS OUT OF THE MOUTH OF GOD.’”
Peter apparently got the memo, or the message, because 30 years later in his little epistle, called 1 Peter, he wrote these words, 1 Peter 2:2, “like newborn babies, long for the pure milk of the word, so that by it you may grow in respect to salvation.” He draws an analogy here with a newborn, an infant. I remember when our daughter was born, we brought her home, I was astonished at the capacity of her vocal cords; how this little small child could fill up the house with noise at will. And she would wake up in the middle of the night just screaming at the top of her lungs, and as any parent’s know she was not interested in us coming in there and giving a theology lesson, she’s not interested in the Trinity or the hypostatic union or whatever, she’s interested in being fed. And she wants to be fed now.
And Peter says that is to be the attitude of the newborn child of God to the Word of God because just as their body needed physical milk to physically mature correctly the spiritual man within them desperately needs to be fed in order to arrive at maturity and even to grow. Isn’t it interesting how this analogy can be found throughout the Scripture? Just as we need physical food to be physically sustained we need spiritual food, defined as the Word of God, to be spiritually sustained.
Now what would you think of somebody who comes to you during the week and says you know, I’m really tired, I’m really fatigued, I’m really worn out, I’m really run down and you say to them well, when was the last time you had a meal? When was the last time you ate? And they say let’s see, gee, I had a meal two weeks ago. You would say what’s wrong with you; you’re supposed to eat every single day. Well, we have people in the body of Christ that come in, perhaps for counseling and they say I’m worn out, I’m fatigued, I’m burnt out, Christianity doesn’t seem to be working for me. And a simple question is well, when did you eat last? I mean, when was the last time you got into the presence of the Lord and opened the Scripture and started to read it for yourself? When was the last time you went to a church that faithfully teaches the Word of God so you could be fed correctly?
And just as we really wouldn’t feel sorry for somebody that’s fatigued because they haven’t eaten why should we feel sorry for people who are downtrodden in the Christian life simply because they are malnourished, and the reason they are malnourished is it’s their own fault. So you can see this parallel that’s drawn here. And once we begin to understand this analogy and this parallel we understand what Jesus is saying to Peter here, as He moves him into a role as not just an evangelist but as a shepherd. He says, by way of command, “Feed My sheep.”
What is the primary responsibility and calling of a pastor? It is to feed the flock of God with the Word of God. 2 Timothy 3, which is a pastoral letter, Paul writing to Timothy, a pastor, teaching Timothy how to be a pastor, says this in 2 Timothy 3:16, “All Scripture,” notice the word all, “is inspired by God and profitable for” what? “for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness;  so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every” notice the word “every” there, “for every good work.” And that’s why he tells him in chapter 4, verse 3, “preach the word; be instant in season and out of season;” because this is your calling as a spiritual leader.
The book of Ephesians, chapter 4, verses 11-16 tells us what the calling of spiritual leaders is exactly. It says, in Ephesians 4:11-16, speaking of spiritual gifts and the body of Christ,  “And He gave some as apostles, and some as prophets, and some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers,” for what purpose,  “for the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ;  until we all attain to the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a mature man, to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fullness of Christ.” [14, “As a result, we are no longer to be children, tossed here and there by waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, by craftiness in deceitful scheming;  but speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in all aspects into Him who is the head, even Christ,  from whom the whole body, being fitted and held together by what every joint supplies, according to the proper working of each individual part, causes the growth of the body for the building up of itself in love.”]
Why did God put the gift of pastor-teacher in the body of Christ? It has the purpose of “equipping the saints” so that they might grow correctly, and as they grow correctly what they discover is they, then, begin to take on the work of ministry. Healthy sheep begat other sheep and you find that if you’re under the feeding of the Word of God, either through listening or also reading it on your own, you find that you have the fortitude and the equipping that you need to fulfill your calling in God, whatever that calling is. But it is the function of the shepherd to feed the flock of God so that they may be equipped. And what equips us? It’s back to 2 Timothy 3:16, “All Scripture is inspired [by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness,]” verse 17, “so that the man of God may be adequately equipped,” not for some good works, but “for every good work.”
You say well, is this just a New Testament idea, or this idea of spiritual leaders feeding God’s flock with His Word, is an Old Testament idea as well. In fact, it’s an Old Testament idea that seems to be just reviewed a little bit in the New Testament. The book of Jeremiah, Jeremiah 3:15 says this, and God says through Jeremiah, “Then I will give you shepherds after My own heart,” well, how do we define a shepherd after God’s heart? “Then I will give you shepherds after My own heart, who will feed you on knowledge and understanding.”
Did you notice that Jesus said, “Man shall not live,” quoting the book of Deuteronomy, “by food alone but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.” [Deuteronomy 8:3, “”He humbled you and let you be hungry, and fed you with manna which you did not know, nor did your fathers know, that He might make you understand that man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by everything that proceeds out of the mouth of the LORD.”]
Since every word of God is significant for our health, our diet, our nutrition, we must be in the business of teaching the whole counsel of the Word of God, not selective piecemealing of the Bible. Paul, to the elders at Ephesus, said this in Acts 20:22-27, “Therefore I testify to you this day that I am innocent of the blood of all men.  For I did not shrink from declaring to you the whole purpose of God.” Why teach “the whole purpose of God”? Because “man does not live by bread alone, but by every words that proceeds from the mouth of God.” Topical studies, beloved, may have their place at times but they do not get the job done because a pastor that teaches topically over and over again, the pastor will pick the parts of the Bible he wants to emphasize.
The type of format that we use here on Sunday morning where we travel through the Bible verse by verse leaves the teacher no wriggle room; you have to teach… by method you have to teach by practice everything, you can’t just skip a verse if it’s inconvenient, people will figure that out. And there are many things I come in here and I say that I would never say on my own volition; I really wouldn’t. There are things that I come in here and talk about that I would never talk about on my own. Why is that? Because I’m going through the Bible and the Bible itself forces me to talk about things even when they are uncomfortable. Do you recall 1 Peter 2:2, we read it just a little earlier, it says: “Like newborn babes long for the pure milk of the word,” notice the word “pure” in front of the word “milk,” it’s talking about a diet which is not contaminated, a diet which is not adulterated, a diet which is not watered down. Think what you would do to your newborn infant if they’re screaming for milk and you fed them a bottle that half milk half 7-up. You’d have a hyper kid first of all. But if you did that over and over again you would have a child that is malnourished, that is not developing correctly.
The place of the pulpit is not to introduce man’s thoughts and ideas to people; that’s not why God gave the pulpit, it’s not why God gave the gift of pastor-teacher. The gift of pastor-teacher is for the purpose of teaching the pure Word of God; the pure Word of God and the whole Word of God. And I very much appreciate a statement that the Grace Brethren movement at one time had; I have a lot of affinity for the Grace Brethren movement. My wife, of course, would be a product of the Grace Brethren movement so I appreciate that, number 1. Number 2, they had a statement that went something like this, this is their motto: The Bible, the whole Bible and nothing but the Bible. I love it, because that, to me, sums up what Jesus and the Scriptures are saying here; it sums up our philosophy of ministry here at Sugar Land Bible Church.
You have to understand something, that there are churches all over this world that you will agree with in terms of their doctrinal statement. They’ve got the Trinity right, they’ve got the virgin birth right, they’ve got the deity of Christ right, they’ve got all of the doctrines correctly and yet Satan has made an inroad into that church, not by changing their doctrine but by changing their philosophy of ministry, changing their practice where the pulpit is looked at as a place where you cast the vision for the church. Casting a vision for the church is something that comes out of business 101. That’s what CEO’s do, that’s what consultants to, that is not at all something that the pulpit should be in any church. We’re not here to cast a vision, we’re here to teach the Bible, line by line, verse by verse, not because I thought of this idea, this is a command by Jesus to Peter, a man who was destined to become a great pastor in the providence and planning of God.
And oh how this is neglected today. The prophet Ezekiel, all the way back in the 6th century, made this statement. He said, “Son of man, prophesy against the shepherds of Israel,” now that’s sort of scary when God is prophesying against you, “Prophesy and say to those shepherds, ‘Thus says the Lord GOD, ‘Woe, shepherds of Israel who have been feeding themselves! Should not the shepherds feed the flock?”
That’s the sort of thing Jesus is getting at here; “Should not the shepherds feed the flock?” And yet what is controlling today? Largely in America, sometimes in other countries, the philosophy of ministry of so many churches, it is a philosophy that I believe is a verbiage that is coined by Charles Haddon Spurgeon which says this: “Feeding the Sheep or Amusing the Goats?” Spurgeon had a whole sermon under this title, “Feeding the Sheep or Amusing the Goats?”
What controls the church today is not Acts 20:26-27, what controls most places today is this structure. You say what in the world is that? That’s Maslow, you may have heard of this man, Abraham Maslow, he developed a theory called the hierarchy of needs. And what Maslow said is all human beings have about four or five needs that they need met. Whether people are saved or not they have these five needs. The first need people have is physiological needs, to get food, water, warmth. Then when they get those needs met they try to get their safety needs met which is security and shelter. Then once those needs are met then they get their belonging need met; that has to do with friends, family and community. And once those needs are met then they have to have their esteem needs met, that deals with recognition, achievement, these types of things. And finally when you get to the very top of the hierarchy man reaches this level of self-actualization where he is fulfilled.
And this is a fascinating theory but let me tell you something; Abraham Maslow is long dead but these words are not just books in a book sitting on a library shelf somewhere; this controls churches, this structure. It… and I was a business major and I taught business colleges so I know a little something about this, this is what you do in marketing, because every person has all of these needs you develop a marketing strategy that appeals to that level of need in people. So, for example, if you’re trying to sell a home security operation or service you might appeal to their safety needs, and you develop what the strategists call a marketing mix, around different needs that people have, and that’s how you market. It’s under the assumption of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. I personally think it’s a very interesting strategy in the world of marketing; my problem is when it comes into the church and it begins to govern the church.
How does it govern the church? What you do is you pick topics that appeal to these levels of need in people. We know that all human beings, whether they’re saved or unsaved, have these basic needs, so once you start to do is you go through the Bible piecemeal, you go through the Bible selectively, you grab a verse here or grab a verse there that may relate to physiological needs, safety needs, belonging needs, self-esteem needs, and you build a sermon series or sermon around those subjects.
Well, let me ask you this: what do you do with all of the verses in the Bible, and there’s a lot of them, that don’t fit into this hierarchy? You just leave them out because what you have to do, and they call this relevant preaching, what you have to do is design the message of the church so that it reaches unchurched Mary and Harry, and the only way you’re going to get them interested in Christianity and the only way you’re going to get them interested in the life of the church is, in essence, what you have to do is you have to selectively use the Bible to reach them.
Well, what if I teach a sermon series on sin? Don’t do that, that’s not going to reach unchurched Mary and Harry because sin… it doesn’t fit within their recognized felt needs. What happens if I teach a sermon series on prophecy, the rapture of the church, the Great White Throne Judgment, all of these types of subjects? No, you don’t want to do that because that doesn’t fit into their realm of need.
And you see, what has happened today, and this has been going on for thirty years, if you want the architect of the whole thing it’s a business consultant by the name of Peter Drucker. Peter Drucker has had influence over two individuals that have changed the way churches operate in the United States of America and even worldwide; the first was Rick Warren of Saddleback Church; the second one was Bill Hybels, and even prior to those two there was another man doing this type of thing, his name was Robert Schuler, in Garden Grove, California. People aren’t interested, we were told, in the rapture, in sin, in a discussion of Satan. Why would they say that? Because it doesn’t fit the realm of need.
And I was in a church that was a committed Bible teaching church and I watched this church, once it absorbed this philosophy totally change. People who wanted to teach prophecy were treated as sort of second class citizens, don’t bring that up, don’t be too aggressive about that because after all, that will not meet needs, that will alienate unchurched Mary and Harry. So the goal here is you design a church according to the value system of the world, and then the world will come. Now guess what? It works, you can pack buildings this way; you can pack stadiums this way.
But the fact of the matter is, what do you really have at the end of the day? What do you have once this strategy is implemented? You don’t have the church anymore; you have a crowd of people. You have a crowd of people where you get up in front of them and you say one biblical thing and it’s enough to drive them through the door because it doesn’t fit the hierarchy of needs.
I believe that this issue is critical. Do you realize how many e-mails I get on a weekly basis from people, all around the country and sometimes in different parts of the world, and they say this: Tell me where we can find a church that teaches the Bible. Tell me where they have a church that a model of ministry that’s like the one you guys have at Sugar Land Bible Church. I live in… and they give some location that I have never been to, tell me where there’s a church like that. And my answer is I have no idea, I don’t know your area. I give them some potential websites they can go to but the fact of the matter is there are people all over the country looking for a Bible teaching church. Why is it that every church I go into, it sounds the same? Why is it that the same sermons seem to be preached over and over again? The answer is Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, because there’s only so many Bible verses you can use in this system. Eventually you run out of verses, you’ve got to recycle, over and over again.
It’s a tragedy. It, to me, is heartbreaking because that is not the calling of God on spiritual leaders nor is it the calling of God on the church. The calling of God on the church through the pulpit is to teach the full counsel of the Word of God. If people show up, great; if they don’t show up so be it, but the fact of the matter is we are never called, at the end of the day, to be successful. I cannot find a single shred of Scriptural proof where God is evaluating people based on success. What He says is, “Well done, thy good and faithful servant.” Not success but faithfulness to the original calling.
I hope people will embrace a proper theology and enjoy wild success, but the Lord never guarantees that will happen. What He says is to be faithful. And this is what Peter is being called to. And how important it is to have a place in this fallen world where our minds are constantly under siege by the adversary, how important is it to have a place to be taught correctly and fed the Word of God, so that you can grow thereby and handle the difficulties and adversities of the coming week. Peter, do you love Me? A very simple thing Jesus says to Peter, “Feed My lambs.”
And then we move into round two, notice if you will verse 16, you have the same question and the same answer, John 21:16, “He said to him again a second time, ‘Simon, son of John, do you love Me?’” Same question. “He said to Him, Yes, Lord,” that’s Peter’s answer, “You know that I love you.’” And then notice Christ’s response to him in verse 16, “He said to him, ‘Shepherd My sheep.” Now in the prior verse, verse 15 and the verse that’s following, in verse 17, the verb is boskō which means to feed. Now you’ve got a totally different verb being used in verse 16 which is poimaínō; poimaínō means to shepherd; it means to guide. In fact from that root, poimaínō is derived from a root; the noun form of that same word from that same root is the word get for pastor.
What, then is a pastor? What then is an elder? What then is a spiritual leader? Simply put, a spiritual leader, or leaders are shepherds. If you want to know what a spiritual leader is supposed to be doing, what you look at is how a shepherd functions in the natural world. Sheep are dumb and defenseless, as we have said; therefore the shepherd has a critical role in the well being of these dumb and defenseless sheep.
He is to, and these all begin with the letter G, number 1, Graze the sheep, that’s feed them and in this case we’re talking about being fed with the Word of God.
Number 2, a shepherd is to guide the sheep, you direct them, now sometimes the sheep won’t want to listen to you but that’s still your calling, to guide them the best you can.
And then number 3, you are to guard the sheep. Guard them from what? Guard them from whatever is coming in to threaten them. In the natural world the shepherd protects the sheep from the wolf; of course, Satan is analogized to a wolf, isn’t he, throughout the Scripture. Satan has all kinds of designs on the church, all sorts of havoc he wants to wreak in the life of the church, all sorts of things he wants to bring into the church to disrupt the development and the growth of the people of God. The function of the shepherd, pastorally, is to protect the sheep from satanic attack.
People want to come into Sugar Land Bible Church and they want to teach all kinds of strange doctrines and the fact of the matter is, we will not allow such a person to teach in this church. You say well, that’s awfully closed minded of you. No! It’s biblical. And in every single classroom we have we try to have an elder present, to know exactly what’s being taught and a lot of our elder meetings are spent talking about who’s teaching what to what group. Who’s overseeing? Are there strange ideas coming into these small groups, these cell groups, these Sunday School classes?
That’s not closed minded, that’s what shepherds do, they graze, they guard and they guide. The fact of the matter is, there are child molesters that want to come into a church. I mean, think about it, if you’re a child molester a church is a great place to operate, isn’t it? A lot of unsupervised kids. We want to protect the flock from physical harm; part of the way we do that is through our two person policy in every room where children are. I can’t say how many big name churches I know of that became the target of sexual predators.
That’s part of guarding the flock as well, doctrinally and physically, because at the end of the day isn’t that what the Lord does for us? Doesn’t Psalm 23:1-6 say, “The LORD is my shepherd, I shall not want.  He makes me lie down in green pastures; He leads me beside quiet waters.  He restores my soul; He guides me in the paths of righteousness for His name’s sake.  Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for You are with me;  Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me.  You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; You have anointed my head with oil; my cup overflows.  Surely goodness and lovingkindness will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the LORD forever.”
Go through Psalm 23 today, just six verses, and every time you see a reference to guard circle that, and every time you see a reference to guide, circle that, and every time you see a reference to graze, circle that because the Lord is the ultimate shepherd, that’s what he does for us. This is what shepherds do for their sheep; how could it be any less for those under shepherds, because you see Peter’s ministry is about to changer here. As I mentioned before, prior to this point in time his calling was an evangelist; I don’t think that calling ever stopped.
Jesus, in Matthew 4:19 said to Peter, “‘Follow Me, and I will make you” what? “fishers of men.’” But you see, the Lord here is adding another dimension to the calling of Peter. Jesus said in John 10:14, “I am the good shepherd, and I know My own and My own know Me.” Jesus, the ultimate good shepherd, was leaving; He was ascending back to the Father, not many days from this time period. And consequently the Lord in His absence would need under shepherds to guard, graze, guide the flock in His absence. And Peter, whether he’s known it or not is a different matter, but all this time the Lord has been preparing him for that role.
And then we come to round 3 and with this we will conclude, notice verse 17, Jesus gets onto this subject a third time; it must be important to Him. Verse 17, “He said to him the third time, ‘Simon, son of John, do you love Me?’” The exact same question. Then comes an answer from Peter, verse 17, “Peter was grieved because He said to him the third time, ‘Do you love Me?’ And he” that would be Peter, “said to Him,” the Lord, “‘Lord, You know all things; You know that I love You.’” Now many people, when they get to this verse say Peter was hurt because the Lord Jesus Christ in verse 17 is no longer using agápē but philéō.
Peter, sensing that shift from level of love to a lower level of love became upset but beloved, that’s not what this passage is saying at all. It specifically says “Peter was grieved because,” not the change of wording, but because this was the third time the question was asked. That’s what grieved Peter; it has nothing to do with the difference between agape and philéō. It has to do with the fact that the question came at him three times. And why three times? The Lord is counteracting Peter’s three-fold denial. Peter denied the Lord three times; the Lord is allowing Peter to reaffirm his love and commitment to the Lord three times. Peter’s denial of the Lord took place in front of witnesses, as you study it in John 18. Every time he denied the Lord he did it in front of somebody else. The Lord is reaffirming Peter in the presence of witnesses; one of those witnesses is John. Peter denied the Lord before a charcoal fire in John 18:18 you will see a reference to the charcoal fire, it’s the Greek word a anthrakia [John 18:18, “Now the slaves and the officers were standing there, having made a charcoal fire, for it was cold and they were warming themselves; and Peter was also with them, standing and warming himself.”]
And isn’t it interesting how these events take place before a charcoal fire; you’ll find a reference to that in John 21:9, that’s what Jesus was preparing the meal on as He ministered to these disciples. “So when they got out on the land, they saw a charcoal fire already laid and fish placed on it and bread.” Same exact Greek word, anthrakia. What is Jesus doing with Peter? He is leading this man through a complete and total restoration, because Peter was sincere and yet he failed. And it is so hard to fail, especially God, when you’re sincere, and the reason Peter failed is the reason we fail the Lord; we rely upon the wrong source of power. And it’s not until we fail that we begin to understand that it is, as the prophet Zechariah said, “Not by might, nor by power, but” what? “by My Spirit, says the Lord, Zechariah 4:6.
How do you ever learn a lesson like that unless the Lord allows you to get it out to the limits of your power? You try this whole thing in your own strength and look how far it got you. There are only so many things you can teach through the lecture method, isn’t there? There are some lessons the Lord has to teach us experientially. And that’s why failure is not the worst thing that can happen to us. We think if we fail it’s the end, and in fact, really a failure and a recognition of a failure is just the beginning because now we’re getting the picture that God never called us to live this thing out through human ingenuity and strength; we do it through His power.
The Lord completely and totally restored Peter. And what a man of God he became. You go through the first ten chapters of the book of Acts; there isn’t a man who is more critical or key to the birth and growth of the early church than the Apostle Peter. Peter is the man! He is the man who spoke on the day of Pentecost, 3,000 are saved. He is the man who led the first Gentile, a man named Cornelius, to Christ, Acts 10. He is the man that presided over Matthias being replaced for Judas who had committed suicide; Peter is the man. Peter is in the center of everything. Why? Because he went through this process of brokenness and failure and recognized his own limitations.
That’s why this restoration is so significant; that’s why it happens in the presence of witnesses three times before a charcoal fire.
You say well, the Lord shouldn’t have treated Peter that way? He didn’t deserve it. You’re right; if that’s your measure He shouldn’t have treated Peter that way. But isn’t it great that the Lord does not treat us based on what we deserve; He treats us on the basis of grace which means unmerited favor. Paul writes in 1 Timothy 1:15-16, “It is a trustworthy statement, deserving full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, among whom I am foremost of all.  Yet for this reason I found mercy, so that in me as the foremost, Jesus Christ might demonstrate His perfect patience as an example for those who believe in Him for eternal life.”
I’ll tell you one thing about Paul, he understood the grace of God. He says, Paul, in Ephesians 3:8, “To me, the very least of all saints, this grace was given, to preach to the Gentiles the unfathomable riches of Christ.” He says in 1 Corinthians 15:8-10, “and last of all, as to one untimely born, He appeared to me also.  For I am the least of the apostles, and not fit to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God.  But by the grace of God I am what I am, and His grace toward me did not prove in vain; but I labored even more than all of them, yet not I, but the grace of God with me.”
Like Paul, Peter learned his lesson because Peter, thirty years later, in 1 Peter 1:2 writes these words: “…May grace and peace be yours in the fullest measure.” You know who the most effective advocates there are who teach the grace of God? People that have received it themselves. If you don’t understand the grace of God because you’ve never received the grace of God, what message do you have to people? The only thing you have is try harder, which is not grace at all, it’s works.
It is interesting; one final comment here, that Jesus says to Peter three times, “Do you love Me?” What makes someone qualified to be a spiritual leader in God’s church? It’s talent? I don’t see talent mentioned here, do you? God doesn’t need talent, He’s omnipotent. He just needs pliable vessels. It’s commitment, that’s what makes you qualified. I don’t see anything here about commitment. What I see here three times is the word “love.” Do you love God and love His people? That’s what Paul [can’t understand word] That’s what Paul is looking for. And so many times we’re substituting the wrong qualities, expecting spiritual leaders to have where the only thing Jesus was really looking for from Peter was love.
Leon Morris, in his commentary writes this: “There can be little doubt but that the whole scene is meant to show us Peter as completely restored to his position of leadership. It is further worth noting that the one thing about which Jesus questioned prior to commissioning him to tend the flock was love. This is the basic qualification for Christian service. Other qualities may be desirable but love is completely indispensable.”
How do we forget Paul and what he said about love in 1 Corinthians 13:1-3, “If I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but do not have love, I have become a noisy going or a clanging cymbal.  If I have the gift of prophecy, and know all mysteries and all knowledge; and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing.  And if I give all my possessions to feed the poor, and if I surrender my body to be burned, but do not have love, it profits me nothing.”
May God help us to develop and grow into the kinds of people that He is looking for and wants to use in these last days, where there is not a greater need that I can think of for true spiritual leadership to stand up and be recognized. Are you that person? That’s what God is looking for. Perhaps you’re here today and have never even experienced the grace of God. You experience the grace of God the first time by believing in His Son. How does believing in His Son allow you to experience the grace of God? Because you’re receiving what He has done as a free gift and you’re recognizing that you cannot earn your way into His presence, God’s presence. You have to come with humility of spirit, which is necessary to receive a gift and the only way you can receive a gift is by faith.
You know, it’s easier to give a gift than to receive it because reception of a gift, which is a true gift with no strings attached, involves a system that has no works or merit associated with it at all. And our prayer for you is that right now, as I am speaking, you receive God’s gift. What Jesus has done for you has cancelled every sin you have ever committed or are going to commit this afternoon, hopefully not right away this afternoon but… and the sin you might commit tomorrow, or the rest of your life. Jesus paid for all of that, and as the Spirit of God convicts you respond to the convicting ministry of the Spirit and as best as you know how, in the privacy of your own mind, in the quietness of your own heart receive the grace of God. It’s not something you have to walk an aisle to do, join a church to do, give money to do, raise a hand to do, pray a prayer to do, it’s simply a moment of privacy between you and God where you’re trusting in the provision of Jesus Christ and Jesus Christ alone for the safekeeping of your soul and your eternal destiny. If it’s something you need more information on I’m available after the service to talk.
Shall we pray? Father, we’re grateful for this ancient conversation and what it speaks to us today. Help us to treasure these words as we walk with You this week, we will be careful to give You all the praise and the glory. We ask these things in Jesus name, and God’s people said…